BBC Radio 4 Gets A Lot Right on Ayn Rand (and a Few Things Wrong)

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BBC has a pretty creative cartoon sketch on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which is pretty good and well-meaning for the most part in the dialogue, though it gets a few things wrong (and some of the artistic interpretations are reprehensible, i.e., equating the dollar sign with a snake). Overall it is worth a watch. Below are some comments on the bolded parts of the dialogue.

From BBC Radio 4 – Radio 4 in Four, Is it good to be selfish?:

Is it good to be selfish?

Morality and selfishness sound like opposites – but not according to the Russian-American novelist of the 1950s, Ayn Rand. She thought it was obvious that behaving rationally meant putting your own interests first: you actually have a duty to be selfish. Altruism or self-sacrifice are immoral, she claimed, as is asking for help from others.

What Rand actually said was that one had no DUTY to help others — she was perfectly fine with (private) charity, and yes asking for help. She also would not call selfishness a duty, but a virtue that must be chosen.

Here is Ayn Rand on the difference:

One of the most destructive anti-concepts in the history of moral philosophy is the term “duty.”

An anti-concept is an artificial, unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The term “duty” obliterates more than single concepts; it is a metaphysical and psychological killer: it negates all the essentials of a rational view of life and makes them inapplicable to man’s actions . . . .

The meaning of the term “duty” is: the moral necessity to perform certain actions for no reason other than obedience to some higher authority, without regard to any personal goal, motive, desire or interest.

It is obvious that that anti-concept is a product of mysticism, not an abstraction derived from reality. In a mystic theory of ethics, “duty” stands for the notion that man must obey the dictates of a supernatural authority. Even though the anti-concept has been secularized, and the authority of God’s will has been ascribed to earthly entities, such as parents, country, State, mankind, etc., their alleged supremacy still rests on nothing but a mystic edict. Who in hell can have the right to claim that sort of submission or obedience? This is the only proper form—and locality—for the question, because nothing and no one can have such a right or claim here on earth.

The arch-advocate of “duty” is Immanuel Kant; he went so much farther than other theorists that they seem innocently benevolent by comparison. “Duty,” he holds, is the only standard of virtue; but virtue is not its own reward: if a reward is involved, it is no longer virtue. The only moral motivation, he holds, is devotion to duty for duty’s sake; only an action motivated exclusively by such devotion is a moral action . . . .

If one were to accept it, the anti-concept “duty” destroys the concept of reality: an unaccountable, supernatural power takes precedence over facts and dictates one’s actions regardless of context or consequences.

“Duty” destroys reason: it supersedes one’s knowledge and judgment, making the process of thinking and judging irrelevant to one’s actions.

“Duty” destroys values: it demands that one betray or sacrifice one’s highest values for the sake of an inexplicable command—and it transforms values into a threat to one’s moral worth, since the experience of pleasure or desire casts doubt on the moral purity of one’s motives.

“Duty” destroys love: who could want to be loved not from “inclination,” but from “duty”?

“Duty” destroys self-esteem: it leaves no self to be esteemed.

If one accepts that nightmare in the name of morality, the infernal irony is that “duty” destroys morality. A deontological (duty-centered) theory of ethics confines moral principles to a list of prescribed “duties” and leaves the rest of man’s life without any moral guidance, cutting morality off from any application to the actual problems and concerns of man’s existence. Such matters as work, career, ambition, love, friendship, pleasure, happiness, values (insofar as they are not pursued as duties) are regarded by these theories as amoral, i.e., outside the province of morality. If so, then by what standard is a man to make his daily choices, or direct the course of his life?

In a deontological theory, all personal desires are banished from the realm of morality; a personal desire has no moral significance, be it a desire to create or a desire to kill. For example, if a man is not supporting his life from duty, such a morality makes no distinction between supporting it by honest labor or by robbery. If a man wants to be honest, he deserves no moral credit; as Kant would put it, such honesty is “praiseworthy,” but without “moral import.” Only a vicious represser, who feels a profound desire to lie, cheat and steal, but forces himself to act honestly for the sake of “duty,” would receive a recognition of moral worth from Kant and his ilk.

This is the sort of theory that gives morality a bad name. [“Causality Versus Duty,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 95]

Returning to the BBC description:

Rand’s approach, which she labelled ‘Objectivism’, starts from the claim that there is an objective reality out there and that human beings understand it through reason not emotion. There is no God. We survive by pursuing our own rational self-interest. She thought it followed from this that the highest moral purpose was for each of us to pursue his or her own happiness. The weak shouldn’t expect any help from the strong.

Here is what Rand actually said on the issue on the relationship between the weak and strong:

In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the “competition” between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of “exploitation” for which you have damned the strong. [Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 186]

Returning to the BBC description:

All forms of collectivism were evil in her eyes. The role of government was nothing more than to protect individual rights of ownership and to let the powerful flourish.

Yes collectivism (the subjugation of the individual to a group) is evil. However, under capitalism everyone flourishes as power is decentralized amongst the smallest minority on earth — the individual — as opposed to centralizing all power with the state as collectivists advocate. Quoting Rand:

A disastrous intellectual package-deal, put over on us by the theoreticians of statism, is the equation of economic power with political power. You have heard it expressed in such bromides as: “A hungry man is not free,” or “It makes no difference to a worker whether he takes orders from a businessman or from a bureaucrat.” Most people accept these equivocations—and yet they know that the poorest laborer in America is freer and more secure than the richest commissar in Soviet Russia. What is the basic, the essential, the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery? It is the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion.

The difference between political power and any other kind of social “power,” between a government and any private organization, is the fact that a government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force.

Returning to the BBC description:

In her bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead she portrayed uncompromising characters who relentlessly pursue their own visions. In Atlas Shrugged her hero John Galt declares “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

You can learn more about Ayn Rand — in her own words — by visiting AynRand.org

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The Political Assault on Climate Skeptics

From Richard S. Lindzen: The Political Assault on Climate Skeptics – WSJ:

Research in recent years has encouraged those of us who question the popular alarm over allegedly man-made global warming. Actually, the move from “global warming” to “climate change” indicated the silliness of this issue. The climate has been changing since the Earth was formed. This normal course is now taken to be evidence of doom.

Individuals and organizations highly vested in disaster scenarios have relentlessly attacked scientists and others who do not share their beliefs. The attacks have taken a threatening turn.

[…]

Billions of dollars have been poured into studies supporting climate alarm, and trillions of dollars have been involved in overthrowing the energy economy. So it is unsurprising that great efforts have been made to ramp up hysteria, even as the case for climate alarm is disintegrating.

[…]

Mr. Grijalva’s letters convey an unstated but perfectly clear threat: Research disputing alarm over the climate should cease lest universities that employ such individuals incur massive inconvenience and expense—and scientists holding such views should not offer testimony to Congress.

So much for the myth that research by private funds is tainted by influence and corrupted, and by research paid for by politicians, non-profit groups and climate hysteria organizations is “neutral” and objective.

Facts are facts no matter who paid to research them. To quote blogger, H. Larson:

“Science requires freedom. Government intimidation has no place in science–nor does the unfounded assumption that private funding corrupts, while public funding guarantees objectivity.”

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Matt Ridley: Fossil Fuels Save The World

From Fossil Fuels Will Save the World (Really) – WSJ:

The more energy you have, the more intricate, powerful and complex you can make a system. Just as human bodies need energy to be ordered and functional, so do societies. In that sense, fossil fuels were a unique advance because they allowed human beings to create extraordinary patterns of order and complexity—machines and buildings—with which to improve their lives.

The result of this great boost in energy is what the economic historian and philosopher Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment. In the case of the U.S., there has been a roughly 9,000% increase in the value of goods and services available to the average American since 1800, almost all of which are made with, made of, powered by or propelled by fossil fuels.

Still, more than a billion people on the planet have yet to get access to electricity and to experience the leap in living standards that abundant energy brings. This is not just an inconvenience for them: Indoor air pollution from wood fires kills four million people a year. The next time that somebody at a rally against fossil fuels lectures you about her concern for the fate of her grandchildren, show her a picture of an African child dying today from inhaling the dense muck of a smoky fire.

Notice, too, the ways in which fossil fuels have contributed to preserving the planet. As the American author and fossil-fuels advocate Alex Epstein points out in a bravely unfashionable book, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” the use of coal halted and then reversed the deforestation of Europe and North America. The turn to oil halted the slaughter of the world’s whales and seals for their blubber. Fertilizer manufactured with gas halved the amount of land needed to produce a given amount of food, thus feeding a growing population while sparing land for wild nature.

To throw away these immense economic, environmental and moral benefits, you would have to have a very good reason. The one most often invoked today is that we are wrecking the planet’s climate. But are we?

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University of Oklahoma Tolerates Violence But Not Unpopular Speech

Apparently the University of Oklahoma rewards violence against women with a suspension and unpopular speech with an expulsion.

From Oklahoma: Tough On Racism, Weak On Assault, Burglury | The Daily Caller:

University of Oklahoma president David Boren’s immediate expulsion of students involved with a recently-leaked racist video stands in sharp contrast to the lighter treatment the school has given to football players found responsible for violent crimes.

Just two days after a video leaked of Oklahoma students, mostly freshmen, singing a racist song on a bus, Boren took decisive action by summarily expelling two students he claims played a leading roll in the chant. The students, he said, had created a “hostile learning environment” for other students and had to be kicked out immediately, with no opportunity to reform. Boren has suggested that more expulsions could be on the way.

“There is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said.

From Oklahoma Stands Tall Against Racism, Weak Against Violence | FOX Sports:

Less than a month ago they allowed Joe Mixon, a talented running back videotaped punching a female student in an off-campus bar, back onto the football team after a year long suspension just from the football team. Yep, Mixon punched a female student and was never even kicked off campus. The punch was so violent that his female victim, a Sooner student, suffered a fractured jaw, a broken cheek bone, a broken nose and a fractured orbital bone near her left eye. Oh, and Mixon also began the incident, according to the complaint, by directing a gay slur at the woman’s male companion at the bar.

What did President David Boren say in that case?

“The judicial outcome and the video speak for themselves,” Oklahoma President David L. Boren said. “The University is an educational institution, which always sets high standards that we hope will be upheld by our students. We hope that our students will all learn from those standards, but at the same time, we believe in second chances so that our students can learn and grow from life’s experiences.” Boren said Mixon will be given a chance to “earn his way back on the team.” Oh, so the star running back gets a second chance for breaking four bones on a female student’s face on video, but the guys in a frat don’t get a second chance for saying something racist on a video?

Apparently, punching and breaking a women’s face while making a gay slur is better then saying ‘N’ word on campus at the University of Oklahoma.

The proper response should have been to not expel the racists but to educate the ignorant students on why racism is evil — and not to coddle violent thugs because they are “talented” football players who bring money and glory to the school.

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Lobbyist Remorse: Netflix Recants on Obamanet

From Benton Foundation:

David Wells, chief financial officer of Netflix, disclosed that Netflix, one of the few companies that advocated the most extreme form of Internet regulation, had lobbyist’s remorse after the Federal Communications Commission voted to replace the open Internet with Obamanet. Netflix PR handlers claimed that Wells was just “trying to convey how our position had evolved.” But the company’s actions support Wells’s words.

Netflix violated a core tenet of network neutrality when it launched its service in Australia as part of a “zero rating” offering by broadband providers, which excludes its video from data caps. Net neutrality advocates want to outlaw such deals. Netflix shrugged off this objection: “We won’t put our service or our members at a disadvantage.” Ironically, Netflix could end up the biggest loser with a regulated Internet. The FCC did not stop at claiming power to regulate broadband providers. It will also review the interconnection agreements and network tools that allow the smooth functioning of the Internet — including delivery of Netflix videos, which take up one-third of broadband nationwide at peak times.

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Obamacare for the Internet

Writes L. Gordon Crovitz on From Internet to Obamanet – WSJ:

The permissionless Internet, which allows anyone to introduce a website, app or device without government review, ends this week. On Thursday the three Democrats among the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will vote to regulate the Internet under rules written for monopoly utilities.  […] The more than 300 pages of new regulations are secret, but Mr. Wheeler says they will subject the Internet to the key provisions of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, under which the FCC oversaw Ma Bell.

It easier for three dictators — I mean regulators — to pass regulations that no one has read apparently.

Title II authorizes the commission to decide what “charges” and “practices” are “just and reasonable”—an enormous amount of discretion. Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell has found 290 federal appeals court opinions on this section and more than 1,700 FCC administrative interpretations.

“Discretion” of a regulator as opposed to protection under a rule of law is the mark of fascism and dictatorship.

Defenders of the Obama plan claim that there will be regulatory “forbearance,” though not from the just-and-reasonable test. They also promise not to regulate prices, a pledge that Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has called “flat-out false.” He added: “The only limit on the FCC’s discretion to regulate rates is its own determination of whether rates are ‘just and reasonable,’ which isn’t much of a restriction at all.”

How will such a ‘just an reasonable’ test apply in practice?

Bureaucrats can review the fairness of Google [1] ’s search results, Facebook [2] ’s news feeds and news sites’ links to one another and to advertisers. BlackBerry [3] is already lobbying the FCC to force Apple and Netflix [4] to offer apps for BlackBerry’s unpopular phones.

The FCC takeover is a naked violation of property rights of those who own the hardware and software behind the internet.

Returning to Mr. Crovitz:

Supporters of Obamanet describe it as a counter to the broadband duopoly of cable and telecom companies. In reality, it gives duopolists another tool to block competition. Utility regulations let dominant companies complain that innovations from upstarts fail the “just and reasonable” test—as truly disruptive innovations often do.

AT&T [5] has decades of experience leveraging FCC regulations to stop competition. Last week AT&T announced a high-speed broadband plan that charges an extra $29 a month to people who don’t want to be tracked for online advertising. New competitor Google Fiber can offer low-cost broadband only because it also earns revenues from online advertising. In other words, AT&T has already built a case against Google Fiber that Google’s cross-subsidization from advertising is not “just and reasonable.”

Utility regulation was designed to maintain the status quo, and it succeeds. This is why the railroads, Ma Bell and the local water monopoly were never known for innovation. The Internet was different because its technologies, business models and creativity were permissionless.

Don’t let it go.

Keep the Internet free.

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Justice For Zimmerman

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From DOJ won’t charge George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin killing | WashingtonExaminer.com:

George Zimmerman will not face federal charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, nearly three years after the killing. The Department of Justice said Tuesday it has closed its investigation into the death of 17-year-old Martin, who was shot dead by Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2012.

[…]

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “Though a comprehensive investigation found that the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution cannot be met under the circumstances here, this young man’s premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface.”

Apparently he would be guilty under no or low standards?

“We, as a nation, must take concrete steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”

One step would be to tell the future Trayvon’s of the world that before you violently punch and assault someone you make sure they are not armed.

Federal prosecutors would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman intended to kill Martin because he was black in order to bring federal hate crime charges against him.

[…]

“Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases.”

Proof is a terrible thing for the Zimmerman lynch mob.

Considering Zimmerman’s heritage is part black this is a good call. Considering that Zimmerman — whatever you think of him and the many poor decisions he made — he is not racist.

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Coronary Heart Surgery at Under $2000 A Pop in India

From Heart Surgery in India for $1,583 Costs $106,385 in U.S. – Bloomberg Business:

Devi Shetty is obsessed with making heart surgery affordable for millions of Indians. On his office desk are photographs of two of his heroes: Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.

Shetty is not a public health official motivated by charity. He’s a heart surgeon turned businessman who has started a chain of 21 medical centers around India. By trimming costs with such measures as buying cheaper scrubs and spurning air-conditioning, he has cut the price of artery-clearing coronary bypass surgery to 95,000 rupees ($1,583), half of what it was 20 years ago, and wants to get the price down to $800 within a decade. The same procedure costs $106,385 at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“It shows that costs can be substantially contained,” said Srinath Reddy, president of the Geneva-based World Heart Federation, of Shetty’s approach. “It’s possible to deliver very high quality cardiac care at a relatively low cost.”

Medical experts like Reddy are watching closely, eager to see if Shetty’s driven cost-cutting can point the way for hospitals to boost revenue on a wider scale by making life-saving heart operations more accessible to potentially millions of people in India and other developing countries.

“The current price of everything that you see in health care is predominantly opportunistic pricing and the outcome of inefficiency,” Shetty, 60, said in an interview in his office in Bangalore, where he started his chain of hospitals, with the opening of his flagship center, Narayana Hrudayalaya Health City, in 2001.

What’s the difference? India has a predominantly private healthcare system not controlled by the government — unlike the semi-fascist/semi-socialist United States which is predominantly government controlled. All those controls and regulations create monopolistic “opportunistic” pricing and inefficiency.

The article mentions that Shetty has on “his office desk photographs of two of his heroes: Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.”

Perhaps he should also have photos of Ludwig Von Mises and Ayn Rand.

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Why Children Died From Measles: “Jesus was my doctor”

From What Would Jesus Do About Measles? – NYTimes.com:

Two fundamentalist Christian churches — Faith Tabernacle Congregation and First Century Gospel Church — were at the heart of the outbreak. Children had not been vaccinated, and when they became ill, their parents prayed instead of taking them to the hospital to receive the intravenous fluids or oxygen that could have saved their lives of those with the worst cases. “If I go to God and ask him to heal my body,” said a church member, Gordon Korn, “I can’t go to a doctor for medicine. You either trust God or you trust man.”

Public health officials turned to the courts to intervene. First, they got a court order to examine the churches’ children in their homes, then to admit children to the hospital for medical care. Finally, they did something that had never been done before or since: They got a court order to vaccinate children against their parents’ will. Children were briefly made wards of the state, vaccinated and returned to their parents. At the time, a religious exemption to vaccination had been on the books in Pennsylvania for about a decade.

To prevent doctors from violating his church’s beliefs against vaccination, the pastor of the Faith Tabernacle Church asked the American Civil Liberties Union to represent him. It refused. “There is certainly a free exercise of religion claim by the parents,” said Deborah Levy, of the Philadelphia chapter of the A.C.L.U., “but there is also a competing claim that parents don’t have the right to martyr their children.

When spring came and the epidemic faded, C.D.C. officials published the results of their investigation. Over a third of those infected — 486 of 1,424 — belonged to one of those two churches, as did six of the nine dead children.

At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we saw more than 200 children in our emergency department and admitted about 40. Children would come in, covered in rashes, squinting in the bright light (a side effect caused by eye irritation), struggling to breathe and often extremely dehydrated. It was like being in a war zone. When I asked their parents why they had done what they had done, they all had the same answer: “Jesus was my doctor.”

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Obama’s Agenda

From Don Watkins at Voices for Reason | The Ayn Rand Institute:

For Obama, the government’s role is to set our goals, determine our priorities, and centrally plan our lives so that we achieve these priorities. […] Obama’s agenda comes down to taking a bunch of money from us, directing it to purposes he thinks we should value, and using the power of government to coerce individuals and businesses to act in the way he thinks they should act. […] Is that really a worldview consistent with the founding ideals? [Sorry Obama, We Aren’t Family]

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Amy Peikoff Interview with John Allison

From Don’t Let It Go:

At the top of the second hour of today’s show I’ll have the pleasure of interviewing John Allison, who is currently President and CEO of The Cato Institute, and formerly was the CEO of BB&T, the 10th largest financial institution in the United States. We’ll be discussing his book, The Leadership Crisis and the Free Market Cure: Why the Future of Business Depends on the Return to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, in which Allison presents the principles necessary to achieve success and happiness—principles applicable to individuals, organizations and society as a whole.

During the first hour I’ll be discussing some news more generally, most likely focusing on the current hostage situations in France, one of which involves the jihadists who massacred 12 journalists and cartoonists working for Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that dared to mock Islam and Mohammad.

Join in live, either by phone or in the chatroom.

The show can be accessed here.

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Pope Francis: Enemy of Free Speech

From Pope on Charlie Hebdo: There Are Limits to Free Expression – ABC News:

Pope Francis said Thursday there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone’s faith.

Uh pope? What happens when your faith and religious expression ridicules and insults my *rational* scientific, philosophical views?

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good. But he said there were limits. By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

If someone curses you, you are free to curse them back. You are not free to punch them, i.e., to initate force against them. The answer to bad speech is good speech. Not violence. To sanction such violence in principle is to sanction the murder of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo.

Yes those limits are where the speech causes physically injury. Punching causes physically injury. Spewing curses does not. Quoting Thomas Jefferson:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error.”

 

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